I had been trying to get a table at Restaurant Story for over a year. Admittedly, Its mostly my fault as I am never sure when I will be in London but beware, Restaurant Story's tables fill up quickly. You need to be on the internet as soon as the new bookings open up to get a table on a Friday evening.
When the bookings opened in August I booked a table for December and was going to arrange a trip around it, that is how much I wanted to go here...
I've been on the waiting list before and never been lucky, until a Friday night in the middle of August. I received a call at 4.30 pm to say there was a cancellation and 3 hours later I was sitting at a table.
Restaurant Story opened in 2013 and within 5 months Chef Tom Sellers received his Michelin star. The restaurant makes use of seasonal British produce to create an amazing, innovative, exciting and incredibly beautiful menu.
Immediately after we sat down we received our first amuse bouche... the first of many.
They are all pictured below. I think the Rabbit and pineapple and the the razor clams were my fave, but they were all a very nice teaser for what was about to follow...
We chose the Full Story option from the menu which consists of 11 courses.
We had tried several amuse bouche before we decided on which menu we wanted, and they were amazing so there was no way I was going to miss out on anything that was coming out of this kitchen.
Everything we ate was absolutely delicious. There was a clever balance between flavours. the portions were just right, 11 courses need to be small enough to keep you wanting to continue eating but big enough that you can really enjoy the flavours and ingredients.
For me the most amazing course was the bread and dripping. Firstly its the first time I have seen dripping on a menu. It something I associate with post-war time poverty, but having become a new convert to bone marrow, I was happy to give it a try.
It was served as a candle (see the photo at the top of this posting). The candle was lit and the beef dripping melted into the candle holder where we dipped the bread. It was completely amazing. The concept was fabulous, the flavour was delicious and it was hard to stop eating it.
All the courses that followed were amazing. There was a bread course that was somewhere in the middle of the 11 courses and a couple pf palate cleansers too.
The whole evening was a foodie paradise.
If you love food, either eating or cooking, you will love Restaurant Story.
I'm already looking forward to going back when they change the menu.
Restaurant Story 199 Tooley Street London SE1 2JX
Aqua Nueva has had a re-vamp and the menu has completely changed and I was lucky enough to get invited to the 'soft opening'.
We were greeted with glasses of champagne, which is always a good start to the evening, and had a little time to wander around before being seated.
The interior is now a lot more open and modern looking without compromising on privacy for its diners. The bar is close to the entrance giving a better separation between the bar and dining area, and of course there are still the amazing roof terraces.
Early evening when the colours in the sky are changing the view over London is fabulous.
I've been a big fan on Alberto Hernandez since he won my heart with a braised oxtail dish several years ago. I have to say I was secretly hoping there would be a new version of the Oxtail on the menu again, but there were so many other amazing things to taste I quickly forgot about it. There were 6 of us at our table so we ordered LOTS of dishes. All the dishes were sharing dishes which I love as you get to try lots of things without committing to one single dish, This is especially good with foods that you may be unfamiliar with. You can be adventurous without the risk of going home hungry.
The food was amazing. fresh, well cooked, beautifully presented and more importantly, really tasty. I'll definitely be back again for more.
I'm not sure if all the items we tasted are still on the menu after we all gave our feedback, and you of course have to allow for seasonal variations but here were some of the dishes we tried.
The Slow Cooked egg was my fave dish, followed closely by the Octopus Salad, but since everyone at the table had different opinions and favorites - don't take my word, give Aqua Nueva a try for yourself.
There were of course some fabulous desserts and a cheese board too.
The staff were all very approachable, knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm for the new menu. (OH and VERY easy on the eye too!) The location just between Oxford Circus and Liberty is perfect for taking time out from a shopping trip or meeting friends. The bar is great for people watching, but get there early for a table, and of course there is always the outdoor terrace.
Aqua Nueva would work as a romantic date, but if you want to taste lots of dishes you need to take some friends with you. I would always prefer to have a small try of 6 dishes than a bigger portion of 4.
Don't be misled by the small plates. The ingredients are excellent quality and so the dishes can be quite rich.
Aqua Nueva, 5th Floor, 240 Regent St, London W1B 3BR
Does your book shelf house a collection of well used and slightly battered travel guide books or do you rely on the help of an 'expert' when planning your travel ? I have certainly done both over the years, and whilst I can see the attraction of walking into a shop and walking out an hour or so later with tickets in your hand and a glossy brochure, for me those days are well and truly over.
I'm not saying that everyone should abandon travel agents and book their holidays themselves, for many that would be a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine that you happily board the plane to Grenada marveling at how cheap you got the ticket, only to arrive a few hours later in Spain. Grenada and Granada are VERY different but only one letter away from each other, easy to mix that one up on a flight booking site...
We have had some not so great experiences with travel agents. Most recently it wasn't even us using the agent. We were waiting for our private taxi to Havana airport from Varadero in Cuba. As we were about to get in our taxi we were told we had to take another couple with us because Virgin Holidays failed to collect them from the resort for their flight. This inconvenienced us slightly, but imagine being the young couple left behind.....We paid 100 USD for our taxi and after the other couple complained to Virgin Holidays were told we could claim half of it back. Virgin Holidays made this very difficut, I had to raise a complaint myself and because I wasn't one of their customers they could only give a refund in GB pounds by cheque. The fact that I live in Switzerland, have a Swiss account and paid for the cab in US dollars was lost on them. They expected me to get someone else in the UK (because doesn't everyone in the world know someone in the UK) to pay the cheque into their account and then send me the money.
So even though I didn't (and would never) book a holiday with them they still managed to inflict their inefficiencies on me. Leading me to beleive that travel agents are as old fashioned as the cheque Virgin holidays wanted to send to me.
The second occasion was when we booked a 4 week trip in South America. We did this thorough a travel agent as I thought it would be easier as there would be several flights as we were travelling through 4 countries. Also we were quite busy at the time and couldn't really commit to all the research. We arranged a private version of their standard tour. We upgraded the hotels they offered so that we could stay at Starwood hotels however it took ages to get the points because the travel agent didn't inform them of it, and some hotels we were told had sent the points to agents accounts. We also didn't get our platinum upgrade in most places.
There was also a problem when one of our flights was cancelled. Despite being British Airways Gold card holder I didn't have the original booking and the travel agent was closed, so we ended up spending 8 hours in the airport with no lounge access. In hindsight I should of stuck to my 'no travel agent' policy that has worked so well for us in the past.
On the other side of the coin we have arranged private guides in India, China and Myanmar. Its easy to find local contacts on the ground in your destination and arrange privately with them what you want to see and what time you want to start. Its also a great way to enjoy street food stalls and small local restaurants.
Myanmar was especially good as the local contact knew dates for the markets on Inlay lake and we were able to plan around this. He organized internal flights for us and the trip was amazing. We got to see an amazing festival because of the flexibility. Even if you don't want to go completely solo getting a local agent gives a bit of security and the insider knowledge is invaluable.
If you like to book with the 'safety' of an ABTA agency doing the work for you then stick with it but I think more people could benefit from the flexibility that comes from being able to choose which flights they take and from which airports they fly. It is worth seeing if your agent offers this option.
After a quick search on weekends in Barcelona I found that Thompson Holidays offer several flights from Gatwick however I couldn't find an option to fly out of Heathrow despite British Airways offering 7 flights daily from Heathrow - that doesn't even take into account other airlines.
I appreciate that the flights from Gatwick are cheaper and this brings the overall cost down, but if you live near Heathrow, or anywhere on the tube line, its cheaper to get to Heathrow than to Gatwick. People don't see this cost at the time of booking, but it is there and could easily be the difference in the cost of the flights.
We used to have family who would book EasyJet flights to visit us when we lived in London. They would fly to Luton. Yes the flights were cheap, but by the time you've dragged your luggage on the Thameslink and then the tube across London, believe me the security at Heathrow will look like a walk in the park.
I would suggest to everyone who hasn't tried to give it a go. After all, would you use a travel agent to book a trip to a city in your own country ?
Why not book a flight and then find your own hotel, get a bus from the airport to the hotel or hire a car and drive yourself, you might meet some locals on the journey, you will see some of the city and you will be there much faster than in a coach where you have to wait for all the others to clear customs, collect their bags, go to the toilet, change money, grab a coffee etc etc
Your holiday will become more of an experience.
I'd love to hear about how you like to travel. Do you like the security of ABTA agencies, or are you happy to 'wing it'?
When my husband said he was going to attend an insurance conference in Sun City, I have to say, I wasn't racing off to book flights. South Africa has never really been on my 'must go to' places. But as his trip took shape and there were some other meetings planned in Johannesburg either side of the conference I thought 'why not'. It was somewhere new to visit and explore and someone else would be making my bed everyday.
I really am often surprised that people don't take advantage of their traveling spouses and accompany them more often, but I am in the lucky position of having time and no work ties so I try to take advantage of the company paying for the hotel room wherever possible.
I booked flights using some of the air miles we have accumulated and I signed up for the 'partners program' - and the entertainment planned by the conference organizers. Shortly afterwards I received an email with the options available. I nearly fell over. It was fabulous. I could choose from Rhino Tracking, a game drive, spa treatments or a cooking class. This was the most looked after I have ever been on any business trip with my husband.
Our trip started in Johannesburg where we stayed for 3 nights at The Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton. We had a few dinners organized with some of hubby's colleagues but during the day I was left to my own devices. Which gave my time to get some lovely spa pampering and a bit of retail therapy at the shopping mall next door.
On the day we had leave for sun city we organized a taxi and spent just over 2 hours watching the landscape change from busy city to dry and arid volcano pit. We arrived at the conference and were given our itineraries and a welcome gift and went off to get dressed for the welcome cocktail evening. Our hotel, The Palace of the Lost City was fabulously OTT. There were gold chandeliers, elephant statues and and zebra skin chairs, and that was just the breakfast room. It is of the best hotels in Sun City, and although there were a few things that we weren't completely impressed about, I have to admit is was quite spectacular.
The next day whilst my husband attended the conference I went on the Rhino Tracking activity organised with Mankwe Game Trackers.
It was amazing. The company who organize it are passionate about preserving the white rhino and gave a very informative talk about the problems with hunting and poaching.
These rhino have a small chip in the rhino horn so they can find them and check on their safety several times a day. Of course this also helps the group locate them in this vast park.
We were able to get to the rhino on foot and were about 10 meters away. It was a truly amazing experience. The guides explained the behavior of the rhino and are so experienced with them that we never felt in any danger. The rhino were so relaxed with our presence that a mother and daughter actually lay down and went to sleep, as you can see in the photos below. We could even hear them snoring!
The Zebra, was just there along the way, just standing there looking at us...
If you are on a trip to Sun City, this should definitely go on your itinerary, ts an amazing experience and the charges help to keep the Rhino safe from hunters.
The next day was a game drive through Pilanesburg National Park on a Game Drive with the same company who did the Rhino Tracking. We saw another rhino alongside giraffe, elephant, hippo, crocodile, Impala, zebra, kudu and even a kingfisher. I've never really wanted to go on a safari, but this small taster has made me think that it might be quite a good idea.
The park is huge 55,000 hectare and the forth largest in S Africa, so this is just like the wild for the animals but they are slightly protected as there is no hunting here and poachers are severely punished.
Nature does have its own ideas however, and sadly the impala have earned the name 'McDonalds' as they are a fast food snack for the leopards and lions in the park.
On both days there were fancy formal evening dinners - great opportunities to get dressed up!
The whole conference was great fun, we were well fed and looked after, stayed in the amazing Palace of the Lost City Hotel.
I got to meet some lovely people and even get up close with a white rhino..
After the conference we headed back to Johannesburg where my husband had a couple of days of meetings. I organised a driver to show me around Soweto and Johannesburg. I got to see the last home of Nelson Mandela and also the home Nelson and Winnie Mandela shared before his arrest.
I also visited the Hector Pieterson museum, which told a very moving story of the violent struggle against apartheid in 1976.
My husband and I stayed over the weekend, so that he could wind down a little after the busy week and we decided to take a driver and have a look around Pretoria, which was completely different to Johannesburg, much more hectic.
I think its always good to tag a weekend onto the end of a business trip, and we do this as often as we can. Then it really feels like a break and of course my husband gets to enjoy the cities he visits as much as I do.
Another bonus of the trip was that there was no shortage of good red wine and steaks. In Johannesburg we had great meals, our favorites were at The Butcher Shop and also The Grill House.
Really, I can't think of a good reason to stay at him when there are so many adventures to be had on business trips :).
As much as I hate to say it, this French restaurant did an amazing Sunday roast....
My husband and I have eaten at Le Chapelle and loved it, so decided to give Galvin - Café à Vin - the bistro a try and were not disappointed.
The decor is very - well - bistro-ey.... Dark wooden furniture and lots of photos on the wall... The restaurant is broken up by the bar area.
The front of the restaurant also has a patio and was a little busy when we visited so we asked for a table in the back. This was accommodated and we had a very quiet spot to enjoy our meal.
Service was very good, although I did struggle to understand the heavily accented waiter. It comes in very handy sometimes having a multi-lingual husband....
I ordered oysters as a starter followed by the beef roast dinner and the chocolate pot for dessert. My husband had the cold cuts, roast beef dinner and tart tatin.
The roast beef dinner was delicious. The waiter also advised us that we could get extra helpings of anything. We didn't take up the offer of second helpings of the food as the first serving was very generous, but an extra helping of gravy was most appreciated.
They have a set price menu for 16.50 GBP and on Sunday the roast dinner is one of the main course options... its really a bargain.
I'll definitely be back here to try out some of the other items on the menu.
Galvin - Café à Vin 35 Spital Square, London, E1 6DY
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